Nintendo and Engrish

I completely forgot about this, until something in my last post triggered some old memories. When I was in high-school the Super Nintendo was very popular in the US. Among the games I frequently rented was Final Fantasy II, which in Japan is better known as Final Fantasy IV:

Final Fantasy II screenshot, Wikipedia

What I remember now, aside from the great story, was the bad translation. This is also known as “Engrish” or “Japanese English”. Bad translations are nothing new in Nintendo games,1 but the games are so good, you can easily overlook them. However, I played so much Final Fantasy II, I can still clearly remember a lot of dialogue, and specific mistakes. At the time, I knew no Japanese, so I never understood why the characters said truly? instead of really?. Now I know why. In Japanese, the word for really? is hontō ni (本当に), but if you take out the に it becomes the noun hontō meaning “truth”. So, I can see how someone would make that mistake.

Some mistakes, which seemed weird at the time, actually were intentional. According to Wikipedia, the US release of Final Fantasy II had to remove a lot of judaeo-christian references like “prayer” and “holy”, so they picked neutral words like “wish” and “white” instead. When I used to play that game, the frequent use of the word “wishes” sounded really awkward, and still does. Why use “wish” and not something else, neutral, but better-sound like “hopes” or “good thoughts”, etc? Here again, you can kind of see what they were thinking at the time.

The Japanese word for praying is inoru (祈る), but in the dictionary, the word can mean either prayer or wish. So the developers probably thought “Ok, wish sounds more neutral than prayer, so we’ll just substitute”. Of course, anyone who learns another language soon realizes that many idioms and phrases cannot be translated in a 1:1 substitution like that, but they probably had deadlines to meet (like all corporate employees) and took a shortcut.

I haven’t played Final Fantasy II in a long time. At the time, I was just absorbed in the game, but now as an adult, and student of Japanese Language, it’s fun to see the cultural/linguistic differences that make game translation such a dicey endeavor. :)

1 One of my best friends from high school really enjoyed playing Goonies II on the original NES, because in one scene you have to hit an old, blind woman over the head to get a candle, but she says “Ouch, what do you do?” This became an inside-joke for my friend and I. :) Apparently, other people noticed this too. (hint: look at the page title at the very top of the browser)

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One Comment on “Nintendo and Engrish”

  1. ロバート says:

    “All your base are belong to us” is the famous one.
    Somehow I think that translation wasn’t done by native speakers, lazy or otherwise.

    It’s funny though, films and manga I really like in Japanese leave me cold in English. There’s nothing specifically wrong in the translations but somehow they don’t work. Even though I have to rely on the subtitles extensively, if I switch to the dub it usually just sounds stupid (especially in American accents).

    I find よつばと!really funny but Yotsuba&! seems so stilted.
    To strange looks from the box office staff I got my money back when I realised they were showing the dubbed version of Howls Moving Castle rather than the advertised subbed version. I couldn’t sit through it.

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